À la mode ou a la maison: How coronavirus has changed fashion week

By Priyankha Khindri |

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but its father is surely creativity. Nothing encapsulates this better than the global fashion council’s innovative response to its largest economic crisis in decades. As we have seen the world develop scientifically in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot ignore how the creative industries have altered and adapted in the face of this seemingly insurmountable challenge.

As global runway season fast approached, the question of how to make Fashion Week viable across cities with lockdown restrictions plagued the minds of fashion houses around the world. With most runways being confined to online spaces – absent of the lights, cameras, and the hustle and bustle of the traditional show renowned designers have tackled the challenge with verve and flair. Moschino’s Jeremy Scott directed a whimsical puppet show to debut his new collection. Every detail was painstakingly accounted for in miniature form; fashions greats in marionette puppet form, such as Anna Wintour and Edward Enninful, were seated in the audience, and the escapade was even completed with a miniature Scott gliding down the runway – as is tradition at the end of every show. Working in collaboration with the company responsible for giving us the Muppets, it is no surprise that the show ignited a sense of joy and wonder in audiences that was somewhat childlike. It was fun and enjoyable, as fashion should be.

Such lighthearted escapism, or indeed a distraction from global affairs, was a common trope at Fashion Weeks this year. At London Fashion Week, Molly Goddard exhibited an array of brightly coloured garments, the complete opposite to what she had planned to present this year. Instead of her intended natural collection, Goddard wanted to spark joy in her audiences amid already gloomy enough times. Fashion, then, became an affective medium through which to escape or emote.

Indeed, fashion has the power not only to act as a means of self-expression and offer some much-needed escapism but also to act as a representative of where we are now as a society. Returning to the Moschino show – where the garments had boning, seams and darts exposed – Scott said that his designs were meant to represent how coronavirus had inverted the way in which we see the world. What Scott called the “inner workings” of society have been now exposed, here alluding to the weaknesses that exist within our healthcare and political systems. Scott depicted a global society which is vulnerable and fragile through his fashion, forcing us to question the concept of beauty as something that is solely aesthetic.

While this innovation is certainly praiseworthy, the fashion industry continues to face scrutiny for its significant environmental footprint

At New York Fashion Week, some brands featured face masks as part of their collections, showcasing intricately designed face coverings intended to match and compliment the outfits of the models strutting down the runway. This presented to the public an undeniable truth: that coronavirus has changed the future of fashion. The idea of a mask as an accessory both highlights the industry’s recognition of and respect for the need to remain safe. It too illustrates how fashion has the power to make everyday accessories a means of self-expression and an outward show of creativity.

Masks were not the only form of innovation to emerge from the events of the past year, with brands such as Prada introducing a form of Zoom fashion. In their latest collection, the fashion house adorned the necklines of their clothing with the Prada logo so that it is possible for the logo to be seen and appreciated during online meetings. In the newly normalised world of virtual video calls, the old rhetoric of looking good ‘from head to toe’ seems rather misplaced. Many of us have instead taken to the notion of dressing up only our top half; applying makeup, styling our hair or wearing a nice top and Prada’s awareness and innovation on account of this is somewhat ingenious.

While this innovation is certainly praiseworthy, the fashion industry continues to face scrutiny for its significant environmental footprint. Research conducted by Ordre has shown that travel associated with the wholesale buying of clothing is responsible for 241,000 annual tons of CO2 emissions, the equivalent to lighting up the Eiffel Tower for 3,060 years. It is evident, then, that the industry must urgently respond to this problem and digital fashion weeks could be part of the solution. However, behind the virtual fashion week lies a complicated and intricate digital infrastructure which also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. Not only do we have to consider the new digital footprint which will emerge from virtual fashion weeks but also the reality that we are likely to see a return to the physical fashion show. Even in light of the pandemic some brands, such as Dolce & Gabbana, hosted in person shows. The duo claimed that the physical show was and will continue to be the highlight of the fashion industry and that it is a critical part of the display of the new collections. It is also important to note that the prospect of digital fashion weeks does not even begin to tackle the culture of waste and excess which is seemingly so central to the fashion industry.

Though Fashion Week may look somewhat unrecognisable, as much of the rest of the world does right now, it is, at its heart, fundamentally the same. What this year’s Fashion Weeks have demonstrated is the sheer adaptability of the fashion industry. Fashion can still impart the same sense of excitement and wonder regardless of whether the shows are digital or in person. If anything, streamed shows have made the power of fashion even more far reaching and democratising. Fashion has emboldened everyday tasks, such as wearing a mask in the supermarket, with a new sense of coordinated purpose. In light of the coronavirus pandemic we have seen the speed at which the fashion industry has the power to adapt and change and we can only hope that it embodies the same spirit in response to the environmental concerns that have been posed against the industry.